Tuesday, January 15, 2019 - Devotional for Day 9
If I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15 (ESV)
For those of us who grew up in the church, and perhaps even more so for those in leadership, the church can become something of an easy target. And I get it—we see the flaws up close, we experience the burden of its members. Among those flaws and burdens are often the tendency we have to form the church in our own image, to create congregations that follow the contour and shape of our own desire. We do this subtly, without compromising what is deemed “pure doctrine.” We shop or build churches that meet our expectations of teaching, music, children and youth programs, or maybe just a group of like-minded believers who share a certain vibe. Unfortunately, when we craft bespoke flocks such as these we miss a fundamental truth about the church: it’s not about us.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to his young charge Timothy, already a key leader within the Christian communities around Ephesus, among Paul’s leading concerns was the church. Yet in the midst of specific exhortation on mission and leadership, Paul issues a concise but extremely profound statement about the nature of the church: the church is God’s household, holding up and supporting His truth.
The first part of this statement reflects a beautiful scene that Jesus envisions in John 14:2-3: “In my Father's house are many rooms… And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” The image is one of the Jewish insula or family compound, something with which Paul would have intimate understanding: a series of combined family residences built around an open courtyard. An adult son would expand and add rooms to his unit in anticipation of returning with his new bride and future family. As Jesus prepares this insula for His Bride in the abode of God, the earthly and new covenant expression of this household exists in our many varied and colorful congregations, God’s house-in-waiting as it were. But in both Paul’s and Jesus’ language it is clear: there is one Father, one Person from Whom and for Whom this house exists.
It is the last part of Paul’s exhortation where we can find some practical ramifications. The church, in its very nature, exists to be a pillar and support of the truth of God. Where we err is in thinking that the church, whether independent or centralized, is the creator or source of the truth, or has an infallible grasp of the truth. Elsewhere, Paul is clear that the church is built upon the foundation of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). Interestingly, Paul uses a different word in 1 Corinthians than he does in 1 Timothy, leading us to understand that the “pillar and buttress” structures come up from the foundation. In other words, the truth of the gospel, built on the person and work of Jesus, is held up and held out to the world by the church. What an incredible invitation! What a sacred stewardship! And in contrast, what a ridiculous notion that the church is somehow ours to fashion and tweak into something lesser. Paul calls upon us, believers scattered among the global outposts of the church, to bear the holy responsibility to uphold and proclaim the central truth of God; namely, the hope of the world through His Son.
In light of this, might we think twice about creating customized congregations that look more like us than like Christ. Might we consider the impact of designing worship gatherings with teaching streamed in like Netflix. And rather than ordering up our Sunday preferences from a menu, might we reflect deeply on how each of us can use our gifting and availability to step into the great task of proclaiming the gospel through the local church.
Father, we come humbly into your household. We recognize the beauty of the church is not in the structure or even in its members, but in Your Son, who is the church’s one foundation. Nudge us away from our natural drift toward self and comfort, and convict us to see the church as a light in the darkness. May we be the hands and feet of Jesus, lifting upward and outward the truth of Your love, grace, and redemption. In Jesus’ holy name.
Ministry Director, Christian Union Caritas